The deluge that has engulfed parts of central and southern England for January has been the worst since records began in 1910. Horse owners are feeling its effects more than most as they battle through the never-ending mud.
The rain has dented the racing calendar, with 23 fixtures cancelled due to waterlogged ground in January. Last week Kempton hosted a Flat fixture for jumps horses on the all-weather track to give horses a run amid the abandonments (see Nick Scholfield’s blog)
The rain has also caused havoc for pointing. Last month Horseheath racecourse in Cambridgeshire cancelled all its 2014 fixtures after the surface was deemed unsafe to race on due to the prolonged wet weather (see p10). Other meets such as the South Durham Farmers Club at Mordon have also been forced to cancel due to standing water on the track.
Event season under threat
As more rain is forecast for the coming weeks on already saturated ground, there is growing concern about the start of the event season, scheduled to begin in less than a month.
British Eventing’s chief executive Mike Etherington-Smith said: “The weather is creating some challenges in terms of event preparation. As always everyone is doing their best to get ready for the start of the season.”
The organiser of Isleham in Cambridgeshire (1-2 March) Jackie Seddon said that she had “no major concerns” at the moment but admitted that it was fortunate that all course changes had been carried out in early January.
“Timing with the recent weather was critical and luckily we got it right,” she added.
Some event riders have still been able to get in some pre-season training, thanks to two new purpose-built all-weather cross-country courses.
Aston-le-Walls in Northamptonshire recently unveiled its new three-acre facility and Pontispool Equine Sports Centre in Somerset opened a two-acre all-weather cross-country course on Saturday
“It has been a big investment,” Pontispool’s owner Richard Mitford-Slade told H&H. “But for us it’s an insurance policy against the weather. Since the awful summer of 2012 and the following winter it was just an obvious solution.”
Pontispool’s all-weather cross-country course is fully booked for the next three weeks and Mr Mitford-Slade now plans to increase the area by a further 2,000 square metres.
Other competitors have not been as lucky. Endurance rider Annie Joppe, who is hoping to qualify for the World Equestrian Games, is struggling to find enough dry land to train on in Cornwall.
“In a normal year I would be able to combine canter work around the field headlands, hillwork on the moors and increasingly long canters on the three-mile long beach at Perranporth,” she said.
“This year, however, even the basic fitness work was challenging: howling gales, the lanes like rivers and my poor school more like a pond.”
Other riders have had to watch their fields and stables being destroyed by the constant deluge.
H&H reader Katherine Soley moved to a new purpose-built yard in Grittleton, Wilts, in October but is now doing emergency construction work as her stable block is subsiding due to constant flooding.
“The weather has brought utter misery to what was supposed to be my dream yard,” she said.
“I have had to evacuate all horses in the block. The base needs underpinning in an attempt to stabilise the building.”
Too late to help
Agricultural groundwork companies told H&H that they have received an unprecedented amount of calls in the past month from people struggling with flooding.
Although there are solutions available, such as improving drainage or putting in underground storage crates to collect and store the water, the sodden ground is hampering efforts.
“Sometimes there are very easy solutions, but any work needs to be considered and planned,” said a spokesman from ground drainage company Owls Hall Environmental. “People should call in a specialist to look at the problem now. But the work will probably need to be carried out when the land is dryer.”
Mark Snelson from equestrian construction and groundwork specialist Groundlines told H&H that a lot of his projects had been forced to “grind to a halt”.
“We just physically can’t do very much,” he added. “My heart goes out to people but there isn’t a quick fix once the damage is done.”
This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (6 February, 2014)